Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Tag Archives: National Parks

College outdoor clubs can introduce students to landscapes such as the Wind River Range.

College Outdoor Clubs: A Necessary Resource

Image you’re a parent and your kid has just come home from college. They joined a club with a crazy group of dirtbags and now spend every weekend outside getting sunburnt, climbing, backpacking, and caving. Your first thought might be, “Oh lord, they’re gonna drop out and live in a van down by the river.” I want you to know it does not always end up that way. However, you probably will have to work with them on showering more often. Whether you are the worried parent or the adventure-driven kid, college outdoor clubs are important and can be life changing.

When I went to the University of Cincinnati, I initially struggled to make friends, especially my first semester. I joined the UC Mountaineering Club (UCMC) at the start of the fall semester, but a demanding chemistry lab prevented me from being active in the club. First thing spring semester, I went to meetings and became an active member of the group. It was incredible! I fell in love with these people. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel included. I tried all sorts of new things, like canyoneering, more serious backpacking than I had done as a kid, and hanging out at the crag (climbing wall) at Red River Gorge.

College outdoor club students connect over a shared passion for adventure.

UC Mountaineering Club students at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

You are able to see so much with these clubs, even as a college student. They can put on a week-and-a-half long trip to western national parks for around $250 per student. Although that doesn’t include food, it is still phenomenally cheap. Without this group, I would not have explored as much of the country as I have.

Opening young adults up to new adventures is not all these clubs are good for. They provide the interested college kid with a group of individuals who share the same passions. This will help them find their identity and create lifelong friendships. Some of my friends from the mountaineering club later became my roommates!

College outdoor clubs also teach new skills; UCMC taught me to climb. I had tried it as a wee Boy Scout but never got into it. Then, UCMC really taught me. I learned the importance of climbing safety and having the right gear. I grew from top-roping to belaying others and eventually lead climbing. When my time came, I was the one teaching other mountaineers how to climb, passing on the lessons I had been taught.

College outdoor clubs are an avenue to discover passions and valuesr

UCMC students connect around shared passions at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

These club relationships can even help with careers and networking. If it was not for UCMC, I would not be working for the best store in the world: Roads Rivers and Trails! Several RRT staff come from UCMC and I’m grateful for that. In the summer of 2019, RRT needed more gear ninjas (that’s what they call us sales associates when we start). Another member of the club helped me apply and get the job. Now, I’m the “Director of Gear Science and Technology.” Pretty fancy, huh! I learned so much about outdoor gear and had some incredible co-workers and supervisors. Emily even helped me get a chemistry job with the Food and Drug Administration by writing a letter of recommendation.

Furthermore, these clubs are instrumental in helping a kid build their identity and adult life. I don’t know what I would have done without UCMC. So, if you’re the kid thinking about joining, just try it out. If you’re the parent, relax. You have to let your kid become the person they want to be, although it may stress you out and make you worry. Just ask my mother, she’ll have some stories for you. But more importantly, it will make a huge difference for your kid.

I love UCMC and I wouldn’t trade its people or experiences for the world. College outdoor clubs are awesome and so important to your personal growth. Check out the UC Mountaineering Club or a similar outdoor club at your college of choice; the impact can be astounding.

College outdoor club students visit Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is a favorite destination for college outdoor clubs over fall break.

by: Joe Carver

Backcountry permits are required for camping in many national parks.

A Reason for Regulation: The Science Behind Backcountry Permits

The outdoors is regrettably full of barriers to entry: far-away destinations, expensive equipment, learning barriers, and, frustratingly, permits. We’ve all run into the permit barrier, forced to waylay plans as we become tangled in red tape. As the popularity of outdoor recreation increases, so too does the impact on the forests, waterways, and peaks we choose to explore. Growing numbers of visitors lead to eroding trails, trampled vegetation, disturbed wildlife, polluted streams, and an ever-increasing list of degradations. And thus stems a reason for backcountry permits.

The outdoors is a welcoming place of escape. It is an escape from inhibitions, so it is frustrating when permits inhibit us from adventuring at will. Increasingly, the most popular places to camp, fish, hunt, backpack, paddle, and climb are being restricted to permitted users. Paddlers wait years for a coveted permit to paddle the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, hikers line up for permits to scale Yosemite’s Half Dome monolith, and climbers sleeping on a portaledge in Zion must first obtain a permit. Hunters and anglers have long been subject to competitive lotteries for permits, tags, and licenses, particularly for out-of-state travelers.

Restricting the number of hunters and anglers seems intuitive, since harvest quotas are structured to maintain fish and wildlife populations which can only withstand so much loss. Permits to climb, paddle, and hike in remote areas aren’t so different. Despite our best efforts at Leave No Trace, visiting fragile ecosystems has an impact; we take something away on each visit. The woods, walls, and waters we seek, like wildlife populations, can only handle so much loss.

The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia has long been a favorite getaway for me. Few people seemed to know of the area’s glamour, yet that is changing. The past few years, I’ve noticed more crowded trails and parking lots. Vegetation is trampled as hikers skirt around mud puddles, and secluded campsites hold multiple parties at once. Once, in my own effort to dig the perfect cathole, I uncovered someone else’s refuse. On another trip, I arrived at my favorite trailhead to find “No Parking” signs and overnight parking permit requirements where there had historically been free parking. These are the prices we pay for overcrowding. Some are merely an inconvenience to us, but others inconvenience the ecosystem.

Alpine areas are especially sensitive to overuse, heightening the importance of permit restrictions.

Biologists speak of the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. A forest can only handle so many coyotes, and there’s only room for a certain number of bluebirds in a field. When wildlife populations are above or below that carrying capacity, nature has a way of balancing things out. Disease, competition for food, limited habitat, and predator/prey relationships tend to push populations back toward that magical number.

The lands we recreate on also have a carrying capacity. There are only a certain number of hikers a trail can handle before it becomes irreparably eroded, so many catholes before a campsite is fouled, and a limited number of alpine baths before a lake becomes polluted. Natural checks occur before wildlife populations damage an ecosystem, but there is no such check on human visitors before degradation occurs. It falls on humans to place those checks on ourselves.

Land managers, wildlife biologists, social scientists, botanists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and others collaborate to determine the maximum number of visitors an ecosystem can handle. Backcountry permits are then instituted to keep visitors at or below that number. These numbers are not arbitrary; there is more science than you could imagine behind them. This collaboration of experts weighs human impacts on wildlife, vegetation, soils, waterways, and trails to determine this number.

They consider the human experience and at what number of visitors an area feels overcrowded. How many people can a trail handle, or a river? What’s the maximum number of cars that can fit at a trailhead parking lot? Perhaps park managers and rangers can only deal with so many patrons per day. This number may stem from limited campsite availability or the ability of soils to bounce back from use. A thorough analysis of diverse impacts is completed before land managers make the difficult decision to institute or adjust permits.

Increasingly, backpackers on trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail are subject to permit requirements.

Be forewarned that more and more of our getaways will be subject to backcountry permits in the coming years. It is altogether a good thing that more people are finding refuge in the outdoors, for we all benefit from time outside. We each deserve the chance to see a mountain sunset and drink from an alpine spring. And support for our treasured places will only grow as their visitors do, which can only be good.

Most permits have a nominal fee associated with them, although some are free. Luckily, this fee is usually small enough that it doesn’t create a financial barrier for visitors. When there is a fee, rest assured that your money goes back to protecting the land— establishing campsites, improving trails, building latrines, and restoring damaged habitats. Keep in mind that the first rule of Leave No Trace is plan ahead and prepare. Do your research and be aware of any backcountry permit requirements before you leave and take the steps to secure any necessary permit.

But there will be a time when we don’t get the desired permit. Take each frustration in stride and remind yourself of the science behind that permit. It is there for a reason, with the good of the earth at stake. Be patient. Find another place or time to recreate. Don’t sidestep the permit or break the rules, because the temporary relief it brings is not worth irreversible damage to a place we love. We’re all bound to be frustrated, angered, bamboozled, cheated, fooled, screwed, and hurt by the red tape of permit requirements. When that happens, remember that the permit is there for the benefit of all—the plants, animals, soils, rocks, waters, visitors, and even you.

California’s spectacular High Sierra is restricted to visitors with backcountry permits.

A permit is designed to protect natural spaces from us because despite our best intentions, damage is inevitable. Backcountry permits, done well, should strike a balance between natural and human interactions. They should allow wildlife, vegetation, and ecosystems to flourish unimpeded, but they should also enhance our own experience in those places. After all, these wild spaces are not there solely for our use as hikers, climbers, paddlers, hunters, and anglers. They are there to protect all that is natural and wild, and we are drawn to those places because they are natural and wild. If permits are necessary to keep them that way, then so be it.


by: Will Babb

Government Shut Down and our Parks

by: Olivia Eads

With the Government shut down, many of our favorite recreation areas are closed or lacking valuable resources for access. Websites are not being updated, restrooms are closed, trash is not being collected, and many people are taking full advantage of the lack of authority in these areas. Here are a few things to consider if you (like me) have planned an adventure this winter to one of our National Parks.

Where are you going to use the rest room?

Without proper facilities many people opt to just use the ground for their excrement; this is not a great idea depending on where you are going. In backcountry scenarios in some temperate climates you can simply dig a cat hole and burry your waste. In the desert, for example, that poses a large risk to the ecosystem because there is no water to recharge the soil and wash it away. In that case, you need to pack out your waste in what we like to call wag bags. If you are setting up a base camp somewhere, a bucket works nicely as well.

How to dispose of trash?

This is a no brainer. Even though waste is not being collected from the designated trash receptacles in these parks, you have the responsibility to pack out your own trash. Follow leave no trace principles. If you pack it in, pack it out. No one wants to be a litter bug. Instead of overloading a dumpster, carry it the extra mile to a town to dispose of.

Access to Resources being limited:

Websites are not updated with helpful information which is a huge bummer. This poses many risks to those adventuring in the areas for what weather to expect, hazards to be aware of, road closures, and general know abouts. Proceed with caution to these areas. Do your own research and get your best ideas on what to expect because it is no longer spelled out for you on their web page. Rangers are also very limited and not always available. You can try calling, but without a paycheck they are likely not to be on duty. This means that search and rescue is going to have a delayed response as well. Take two for safety (two seconds, two people, two moments etc.).

Have a backup plan       

Look at alternatives in the area if your number one destination is closed. I know it sucks to put in a lot of planning towards something only for it not to be achieved. Since June 2018 I have been planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park for an epic climbing adventure leaving 1/10… The park conveniently closes that day until further notice. There are so many wonderful open and inviting natural spaces. Lucky for me, flying into Vegas, there are amazing natural wonders in every direction. Now to choose where to go that isn’t affected by the 2019 shut down. Different parks have different restrictions right now. Try doing a Google search to see what restrictions are in place where and to what extent. My back up plan: RED ROCKS!

 Don’t sweat the little things

Life is too short. There is no use in stressing over things you cannot control. I still have 15 days of vacation to find some epic climbing out west. The best way to plan is with some wiggle room for when things go wrong. Take a deep breath and we’ll all get through this together.


Every federal area will have different rules and regulations during a shutdown. These areas include National Parks, Forests, Monuments, or other government funded areas. Some are closed with potential for prosecution, some will have visitor centers, restrooms, and other amenities locked and closed, and others will have little or no staffing available. For more details please visit your park web page. For more information on how the parks have been effected and considerations you should take please consider the articles linked below.

National Geographic

National Parks Conservation Association


The National Parks

By: Ben Shaw a.k.a. Squanto

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 11 of the 58 U.S. national parks over my travels through the past several years and if there’s one thing I can tell you it’s that they all contain untold beauty in their own various rights.  I have so many stories about these places and memories that will forever be with me.  Whether it be: the amazing (and somewhat crowded) geysers at Yellowstone, the desolate (and sun-drenched) canyons of Capitol Reef, or the high (and very dry) mountains in Guadalupe Mountains, these national parks all have something that makes them very special.

Some folks I’ve ran into have their various issues with the national parks, from overcrowding to the extent of the protections there but, national parks stand out to me for various reasons. It might be that they’ve been set aside from the rest of the world to be protected and treasured.  It could be that I’ve been lucky enough to make some of my best memories in these places.  It may be that they provide a window into a world before people touched it.  I think everyone that goes to a national park has a different reason for loving it, but they all relate back to the same thing…  Our national parks allow us to get back to the basics and enjoy a simpler life. They also show us what an environment not touched by humans looks like in all its rugged, untarnished beauty, and natural glory.

I remember the first friend trip I took, as opposed to a family one, we visited Zion National Park, Utah and Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.  I can still, remember that feeling of awe when we got to the top of Angel’s Landing and sat there staring out across the canyon, three years ago.  The only reminder of the outside world was the winding road down below and the paved trail that we had hiked up on.  These things raised a question to me, “Are these places still truly wild with all that we’ve built in them?” I ask myself this question repeatedly in the many places I have visited and still do to this day.

I remember the wildest places I’ve visited.  In Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, a massive desert isolated us from others by miles and the breath-taking backdrop of the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range stuck out above the sand.  In Capitol Reef, Utah, the closest town to us was 100 miles away. When the sun went down the stars were strewn across the sky clustered by the millions, you could see more than you ever thought existed.  In these moments I answered my question briefly, I knew for just a moment that there are parks that are still truly wild.

I’ve stood on the edge in these places, climbed their tallest peaks, shared adventures with friends that I can never forget and because of these things, these places will forever have a special place in my heart.  As always with places that are special to us, we think about their longevity and continued existence for others to enjoy.

Our national parks aren’t necessarily under assault as some might suggest, but they are going through a state of change.  With more people getting involved in outdoor activities than ever before and more people visiting our national parks each year the Parks Service has a responsibility to make sure that these places remain protected for generations to come.  Whether they do that through increased fees, permit quotas or even shutting down areas of certain parks, it makes you wonder if their various tactics to protect these lands might be hurting them.  Wouldn’t it be helpful in the long run to have more people out there being able to visit these places and getting them to have strong feelings about them so that they might be compelled to join the conservation effort?  Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have high attendance and teach those attendees about the proper outdoors practices (i.e. Leave No Trace) so that those wishing to par-take in the beauty of the outdoors know proper conduct?  These are tough questions, but they’re questions that we need to keep asking to ensure the continued unspoiled beauty of these places, and to make sure our access to them is not minimized.

For me, this is how I protect these places: I continue to ask these questions every day. I’ll continue to try and help ensure the things I got to enjoy in the past are there for future generations to do the same.  I’ll keep dipping my toes in new waters, suffering through the dry mountain heat to get to the summit and hiking for days on end to find the hidden beauty in the places I visit.  Most of all, I’ll continue to make new memories that inspire me to continue trying to protect these places, so others can enjoy them the way I did.

Road Trippin’

Road Trippin’
Written by: Louie Knolle

If there is one thing in my life that I am proud of, it is that I’ve stood with my toes in the Atlantic in Maine, danced in the splashing, roaring waves of the Pacific in Washington, endured arctic gusts atop some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, and never once have I ridden on an airplane.

Whether it is by necessity or by choice, the road is still the supreme way of travel.  Painted with pictures of gridlocked bumper to bumper traffic, seemingly endless fields of corn, and the ever feared seldom cleaned gas station bathrooms, driving does not have a positive image when it comes to traveling long distances.  But nothing compares to witnessing first hand literally every mile of your journey.  You aren’t plugged into your laptop or smartphone using airplane supplied wifi, there’s no in-flight movie, no attendants to assist at the first signs of discomfort.  In just the past four years alone, I have logged over 28,000 miles of road time driving to the many adventures I have been fortunate to experience.Roadtrip pic 2

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to invoke some anti-air travel movement and inspire a horde of tramping cross-country traveling troubadours armed to the teeth with road maps and mix CDs (as awesome as that would be), but simply making the recommendation to take the opportunity to travel via road if you are given the chance. You will not regret it. The people you meet, the time spent with friends and family, the spur of the moment road side attractions, witnessing people of other cultures out living the same dream, even the discovery of just how resilient you can be when you feel that urge to go in the middle of nowhere and the closest rest stop is still over 50 miles away. I am in no way a doctor, expert, professional travel guide, or anything of the like, I just know what I love. And I love the road.

Few realize these days simply how large our country is. In this “golden” age of near instantaneous communication from anywhere across the globe, it is easy to underestimate just how much country lies in a 3,000 mile span. Sure you can send a text to a friend in California asking how he is and he receives it a mere few seconds later, but to physically arrive there in person? In a modern automotive vehicle, you’re looking at a solid 36 hour drive from our neck of the woods depending on where in Cali they are located. It is in travelling with friends from Europe that I have realized just how alien a concept it is to them that one can drive for 2 straight days and remain in the same country. In their homelands, usually it would take less than half a day to traverse their nations’ borders. I remember in particular the reaction my French friend had when after arriving to Glacier National Park from a 27 hour drive, he was in disbelief having learned it was still another 12 hours or so until we would have actually been on the Pacific Coast. On my last trip in particular, while journeying more than 8,500 miles with 2 friends we encountered expansive grasslands, alpine tundra, arid desert, alpine forest, coastal bluffs, high plains desert, rain forest (yeah you heard me, go to Washington and see for yourself), and whatever you want to call the awesome scenery of the Badlands in South Dakota. All in all, the United States is huge and you should see as much of it as humanly possible while you are able.

Roadtrip pic 3One thing that remains is, how does one prepare for a road trip? The two polar opposite ends of the spectrum are ruthless planning and scrupulously following your itinerary to the “T”, and choosing to go the Bohemian route and go wherever your heart leads you. I usually shoot for a place in the middle with emphasis on freelancing as we go. For example with my most recent trip out west, the plan was easy: Drive to Washington by whatsoever routes we chose each day and arrive back in Cincinnati three weeks later.  By means of car camping and crashing on friends and families’ couches along the way, we spent no more than $5 per person for a night’s rest.  It doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me. We frequented ranger stations, local outfitters, even people we ran out to out on the trails, asking the best sights and hikes in the area, local food suggestions, and on a few occasions the best driving routes from point A to point B. That was actually how we ended up driving one of the most scenic routes of our lives through central Utah when traveling from Arches to Zion. Ask me about it next time you drop by the shop!

Roadtrip pic 4Therefore hence hither thusly in conclusion, drive. The road is and always will be my favorite way to travel. Some have even called it “king”. One of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes about listless wandering is, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” I have so much appreciation for the time I spent traveling, both for all of the things I have seen and experienced, as well as the bits of myself I would have not seen otherwise had I not been traveling for long periods of time. I owe a large part of who I have become to the many opportunities I have been blessed with to be able to go out and experience so many different places in our country. Simply by writing this piece, so many positive emotions and memories have been brought back and I would not have changed a thing. I know my feet are certainly starting to get that familiar itchy feeling, and the only way to cure that is to stretch them out on a path to everywhere.


Previous      More RRT Adventures?     Next